Thursday, December 28, 2017

Waves & Whirlpools: on Energy, Structure, Matter, & Antimatter (Part II)

In our last post, we introduced the pond—the surface of a body of water serving as an intriguing analogy for spacetime—with waves as a transient expression of energy, much like photons or gravitational waves, and eddies representing charged particles like protons and electrons. We found that two whirlpools spinning the same direction will repel one another, much like two particles of the same charge—but what about ones spinning opposite directions?

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Waves & Whirlpools: on Energy, Structure, Matter, & Antimatter (Part I)

When physicists try to describe spacetime and its interactions with matter, the analogy we invariably seem to fall back on involves an elastic sheet, with bowling balls creating curvature on it and marbles orbiting those bowling balls like planets around a sun.

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Friday, December 22, 2017

Ask a Physicist: Time Dilation

This week, Amandeep from Toronto wrote in to ask:

According to Einstein’s theory of relativity time slows down as speed of the object increases. What is the rate of change of time? E.g. if time was being measured by a simple clock, can we see the hands of the clock slowing down at a certain rate as a result of increase in speed?

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Small Chirps Could Provide Big Insights on Tiny Structures

Chirps, short bursts of (often annoying) high-pitched sounds, are generally a way of conveying information. Birds chirp to warn their feathered friends of impending danger. Male crickets chirp to announce their intentions to females. Smoke alarms chirp to keep you awake all night until you finally get up and change that low battery.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

How To Build Better Rockets By Crumpling Beer Cans

Knowing more about how a metal tube crumples might improve the design of everything from beer cans to space rockets. Now scientists find that poking such cylinders in the side could help predict when they might buckle from weights or pressure from above.

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Friday, December 08, 2017

Celebrate the Holidays with Famous Physicist Snowflakes!

It's the holiday season again, and the PhysicsCentral HQ has become a festive wonderland of garlands, snowflakes, and enormous tins of flavored popcorn tempting us at every turn. Today, we're going to help you get into the holiday spirit with the help of our friends at the Niels Bohr Library, who have cooked up a special set of winter decorations for your home, classroom, and office!

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Thursday, December 07, 2017

What Does a Leader Sound Like? Scientists Reveal the Power of a Voice

What is it that makes us trust one politician over another? Surely vision and values are key, but as science demonstrates, we are influenced by much subtler things as well. It turns out that our perception of political leaders and even our voting preferences can be swayed by something as simple as the acoustic properties of a leader’s voice, according to Rosario Signorello and Didier Demolin from the Laboratoire de Phonétique et Phonologie in Paris. This is the subject of the work they presented at this week’s 174th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Surprising Complexity in One Dimension

Unlike one-dimensional personalities, one-dimensional materials are actually very complex—so complex that scientists are still working to decipher their behaviors. In 1-D materials, particle movement is confined to a line. Two independent groups of researchers, one based in Australia and one in China, performed some of the first experiments to put a 50-year-old theory about such materials to the test.

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Monday, December 04, 2017

Whispers of Light Reveal Secrets of Ultracold Water

How low can you go? That's the question a collaboration of sixteen European scientists have set out to answer, in regards to one of the most ubiquitous-yet-mysterious substances on Earth: water.

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Mysterious Case of the Excess Positrons

In 2008, the European satellite PAMELA detected a surprisingly large concentration of high energy positrons above our atmosphere. The presence of so many positrons, the anti-matter counterpart of electrons, goes against theoretical predictions but has been verified by other detectors. In new research published earlier this month by the AAAS journal Science, a team of researchers from Germany, Mexico, Poland, and the United States now cast doubt on one of the leading explanations for the mysterious excess—leaving its origin still unknown.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Widespread Impact of Bursting Bubbles

What really determines clouds and rain? Why does burning rubber smoke so heavily? What gives sparkling wines their distinct and lively aroma? The answer to all of these questions leads back to bubbles, according to Alfonso Gañán-Calvo from the University of Seville in Spain. When small bubbles on the surface of a liquid burst, they often send tiny droplets of the liquid flying into the air. These tiny droplets spread out through the air and, if they contain solutes or particles, the relics after liquid evaporation become seeds for clouds, far-reaching scents, or heavy smoke.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Bringing Tiny Points of Darkness Into the Light

“Light is intriguing and still full of surprises, even though we use it every day to perceive the world around us,” says Lorenzo De Angelis, a PhD student at the Kavli institute of Nanoscience in Delft, the Netherlands. He speaks from experience. An unexpected aspect of light’s behavior was just uncovered by a team including De Angelis, Prof. Kobus Kuipers, and collaborators from Delft and the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom. Their work originated at AMOLF in Amsterdam and was published this week in the American Physical Society’s journal Physical Review Letters.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"String Theory": Musician-Physicist Tackles Whammy Bar Dissonance

The leverlike guitar accessory known as a whammy bar is best used to bend and distort a single note—think Jimi Hendrix's famous rendition of the Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock 1969. But it doesn't sound very nice if used when playing multiple strings simultaneously, such as when strumming a chord. To solve this problem, a researcher from the U.K. has engineered new guitar strings that respond tunefully and as a group when you use a whammy bar.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Flash! Thunderstorms Intensify Over Busy Shipping Lanes

Lightning can be a destructive force of nature, but it’s not immune to human influence. In fact, new research suggests that the exhaust from ships transporting oil, coffee, and probably this holiday season’s most popular gifts is intensifying thunderstorms and increasing the number of lightning strikes along some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Conducted by Joel Thornton, Robert Holzworth, and Todd Mitchell from the University of Washington and Katrina Virts from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, the research was published earlier this fall in the American Geophysical Union’s journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Physics in Advent: 24 Great Experiments...Dozens of Fabulous Prizes!

Studying physics and learning about the laws that define our universe is usually its own reward—but sometimes it's nice to have other rewards, too. That's why we're excited to share the news about Physics in Advent: an opportunity to learn physics via hands-on experiments all throughout the month of December, and also to win books, electronics, science kits—and, for one lucky American student, a trip to Europe!

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Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Observing Curved-Space Quantum Physics in Nano-Sized Metals

There’s a lot of room between the tiny world of the nanoscale and the grand scale over which we usually talk about Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Although the arenas seem vastly different, we may soon be able to observe the phenomena of general relativity in nano-sized metals.

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Friday, November 03, 2017

Ask a Physicist: The Speed of Electricity

Last week, a reader named Nabilah wrote in to ask:

Electrons carry charge, but I've been told that electrons in a DC circuit actually move slower than a snail, and in an AC circuit, they don't move at all, just shifting to and fro. Then how does that make a lightbulb light up?

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Separation by Scattering: Scientists take on an isotope challenge

You can split sunlight into a vibrant array of colors by sending it through a prism, as fans of physics (or Pink Floyd) know well, or by bouncing it off a mirror through a refractive medium like water. In an exciting but less colorful way, a team of researchers from the University of Chicago recently demonstrated in the American Physical Society’s journal Physical Review Letters that you can split neon gas into the specific varieties, or isotopes, of neon that compose the gas in an analogous way. This could be a more cost- and energy-efficient method for enriching isotopes, a key component in many medical technologies, energy systems, and other applications.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

From Butterfly Wings to Solar Cells

You may associate butterfly wings more closely with pop culture and chaos theory than with cutting-edge materials science, but the delicate wings have a lot more to offer than the plot of sci-fi movies. In new research published last week in the journal Science Advances, a team of scientists from Germany and the United States reveal how a technique inspired by black-winged butterflies could lead to more efficient solar cells.

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Hello, Multi-Messenger Astronomy!

As we posted Monday, it has certainly been a busy season for the scientists behind the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and its European counterpart, Virgo. Yesterday’s announcement of a neutron star merger is especially exciting because it’s the first detection made with gravitational waves that could also be viewed using optical telescopes. Within just a few hours of the initial gravitational wave detection and the gamma ray burst that arrived 1.5 seconds later, telescopes all over the world began to focus their gaze on the same region of the sky, catching a multispectral “kilonova” in action. “It was this extraordinary 2-to-3 day period,” said Aidan Brooks, staff scientist at the California Institute of Technology working on LIGO. “Everybody was completely elated and we just had this sort of amazing science flow in immediately after making this detection.”

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Scientists Free Laser Cavities to Embrace New Shapes

From medical technology to cat entertainment, lasers are one of the most revolutionary inventions of the last 75 years. Now, one of the key components of lasers may be in for a revolution. In new research published in the AAAS journal Science, researchers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) demonstrate an innovative design for the optical cavity of a laser. This development could help manufacturers pack laser components into less space on a chip, accelerating the development of light-based computing, among other applications.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

A Neutron Star Collision: Gamma Rays & Gravitational Waves

Gravitational waves have been on our radar non-stop lately, from LIGO's fourth reported detection—enhanced by data from Italy's Virgo project—to this year's physics Nobel going to three of LIGO's cofounders. But here we are again and, far from getting old, the news is more exciting than ever: we've picked up a new kind of signal, from merging neutron stars rather than black holes. That's not all, though—while black hole mergers are expected to be difficult or impossible to see, this collision produced electromagnetic waves across a broad portion of the spectrum, allowing multiple telescopes to pick up the signal and giving us our first confirmed glimpse of a binary neutron star system coalescing into a single object.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Sci-fi Physics: How would you design a self-healing spaceship?

Recently, a reader by the name of Robert wrote in to ask a fun question, with an even more fun answer.

I'm writing a story, and trying to find a material that acts like a liquid under high pressures, but also acts as a solid at low pressures. I'm trying to design a kind of fictional armor for my spacecraft, I want something that will fill holes produced by impact and weapons fire. The only problem is: I don't know if something like that can exist.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Quantifying Chaos to Understand Liquids

For those readers in regions where autumn is quickly approaching, a pumpkin spice latte might be just the thing to help you relax. As scientists like Moupriya Das and Jason R. Green from the University of Massachusetts Boston know, however, zoom in on this seasonal treat and the world is anything but relaxing.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Texas A&M Students Make Physics Fun, With "Real Physics Live" Video Series

Have you ever seen air frozen solid? What about a tricycle with square wheels that can actually be pedaled? These oddities and more are on display in Real Physics Live, a new series of videos from physics and astronomy students at Texas A&M.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Ecology Without Species?

Until recently, microbiology has been a science done largely in petri dishes, looking at a few million copies of one organism and asking simple questions trying to suss out how it’ll behave in the wider world. What does it eat? Does it breathe air like we do, or is it an anaerobe, to which oxygen means death? Now, however, there’s a radical new understanding sweeping the scientific world—and researchers are having to devise new tools to keep up.

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Monday, October 09, 2017

Caught in the Act: The Quick Escape of Electrons

When hit with an energetic particle of light, an electron orbiting the nucleus of an atom can break free in less than one quadrillionth of a second. Exactly what happens during this fraction of a second is difficult to capture, but there is a lot to be gained by doing so. Mapping the interactions between an escaping electron and the other particles inside of an atom will bring us closer to being able to control the behavior of an electron or other subatomic particle inside of an atom—and maybe even bring us closer to creating new states of matter.

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Friday, October 06, 2017

Ask a Physicist: Chasing the Sun

Colin, from Newfoundland, Canada wrote in this week to ask:

The Trans Canada Highway runs fairly straight. If I was to start at the border of Ontario and Manitoba and, as soon as the sun came up, began to drive west at 100km/h. How many more hours of sunlight would I be able to gain?

Great question—and a fun idea for a roadtrip! Let's see if it's practical. There are a few ways to approach this problem; we'll look at two of them.

Standing still on the longest day of the year at the latitude of the Trans-Canadian Highway—about 50° from the equator—will net you 16 hours and 19 minutes of sunlight for starters. Let's be optimistic and take those 19 minutes for refueling, seeing as you're probably going to run down your tank at least twice, so you've got 16 hours of travel time. You've specified a speed, so that makes things relatively easy—how far can we get in 16 hours at 100 km/h? Obviously, 1600 km!

Assuming we're staying on the road and not going "as the crow flies", that's enough to get you from Whiteshell—a town along the Trans Canada Highway at the border of Manitoba and Ontario—to Canmore, just past Calgary.

Sunrise and sunset times at various longitudes and cities can be found just by googling, so let's look at Whiteshell vs. Canmore

We see here that we get an extra 29 minutes! Our original 16 hours and 19 minutes of sunlight is now 16:48. Here's where it gets interesting, though—if we're driving until sunset, the 16 hours of road-time we've calculated for isn't all we get; we can go another 29 minutes—which gets us almost 50 km farther, and buys us another few seconds of sunlight. You might wonder where this line of thinking ends—we could drive for those few extra seconds, and it would get us a few more microseconds—and the answer is that, technically, it doesn't! The problem is described by an infinite series. That doesn't mean we can drive forever, though; a series that's made up of an infinite number of ever-shrinking terms can still take on a finite value—this is known as the limit.

Hundreds of years ago, a young Isaac Newton was vexed with problems like this one. To address them, and to calculate things like the exact amount of time between sunrise and sunset for a westward traveler without computing an infinite number of terms, he developed calculus. Here, of course, the first few terms in the series—i.e. the 16 hours plus a second-order term to account for the daylight gained—provides a close enough approximation for our purposes.

Treating this explicitly as a calculus problem would require us to know the function describing the curviness of the road, which we don't have. However, we can get there by knowing a little algebra and making a simplifying assumption.

Say we're heading straight west, as the crow flies, rather than following the Trans-Canadian Highway. Now we can treat this like a "two trains leaving their stations" algebra problem, where your car is one train, and the "terminator"—the line of sunset—is the other.

Although if it helps to picture Arnold Schwarzenegger as the other train, I don't see why not.
On the longest day of the year at 50° latitude, there's 16 hours and 19 minutes of sunlight.  This tells us that, at that latitude, it's daytime across 68% of Earth's surface at your latitude, with the remaining 32% in night—which tells us where the terminator is when the sun rises at your location. To figure out how fast the terminator is moving, we need to know the circumference of the earth at your latitude. Fortunately, this is pretty simple—just the cosine of your latitude, multiplied by Earth's circumference at the equator.

Dividing that number by 24 hours, since that's how long it takes the terminator to reach the same point on Earth's surface from one day to the next, gives us a linear speed of 1073.33 km/hr.

Now, to find out how much of a head start we have over the sunset line, we can multiply the circumference by 68%, or 0.68, to find out how far "behind" you the terminator is at sunrise—yielding a result of 17,516.8 km. Just to check our math, we can see how long it would take a line moving at 1073.3 km/hr to cover a distance of 17,516.8 km, and we find:
which is pretty exactly the length of the day we found earlier—a sign that we're on the right track.

Now, we just need to set this up as an algebra problem, to figure out how much daylight we gain by traveling west at 100 km/hr. We've got a 17,516.8 km head start, and putting that into an equation looks something like this:
taking out the units, to clean things up, we get:
which simplifies, after a step or two of algebra, to:
Dividing out both sides and simplifying, we get a surprisingly clean answer:

It's significantly more than you get driving on the road, almost remarkably so, but it checks out intuitively. Google's over-the-road distance measurements mean that, in addition to the road's lateral curvature—winding north and south rather than going straight east-to-west—there's also vertical distance to take into account; all the little hills and dips add up.

All in all, while this is a great question, you're not likely to gain enough sunlight in your day to make this roadtrip worth it; sixteen hours in the car with half an hour of stopping time doesn't sound like much fun.  It's interesting to note, though, that a fast jet at the right latitude could keep pace with the sun, effectively outrunning the night indefinitely.

Thanks for writing in!
—Stephen Skolnick

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Thursday, October 05, 2017

The Shape of Randomness

We often rely on shapes and patterns when navigating the world. Poison ivy or an innocent plant? A nasty rash or the imprint of the textured wall you were leaning against? Similarly, scientists often use shapes and patterns to interpret datasets. Do the points follow a straight line? Appear in clusters? On the street and in the lab, shapes help us organize information, interpret data, and even make predictions.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Physics in the Autumn Sunrise

The sun is an hour over the horizon. It's the first week of October in Maryland, and there's something uniquely enchanting in how the light catches the tips of the trees. What is it that makes this morning sunlight so spectacularly yellow-gold? As with most things, the answer—at some level—comes down to physics.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Gravitational Waves Catch 2017 Nobel

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...two monstrously large black holes, perhaps as old as the universe itself, collided. Nearly a billion years later, in late 2015, the Advanced LIGO detectors in Hanford, WA and Livingston, LA came online—just in time to catch the signal as it went by. The men who masterminded this enormous endeavor, observing a warping of spacetime smaller than a proton over a scale of several miles, were recognized this morning for their efforts with the announcement that they would receive the 2017 Nobel prize in physics.

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Monday, October 02, 2017

Nobel Week 2017: Physics—Three Guesses Who

It's here, ladies and gentlemen! The biggest week of the year for the recognition of "boons to mankind"—the annual announcement of the Nobel prizes—kicked off today with the awarding of the medal for physiology/medicine.

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Innovating the Colliders of the Future: the Electron Lens

Particle accelerators have opened a unique window into the subatomic world, revealing some of the most fundamental components of our universe. In the last ten years, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has taken us to new energy frontiers that resulted in the detection of the Higgs boson among other accomplishments, including the recent discovery of a doubly charmed particle. But there is still much to learn.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Researchers Perfect New Technique for Making "Memory Crystals"

Scientists from Japan have found an easier way to make a special kind of crystal that can "remember" its shape if deformed. These materials—known as shape memory alloys—are valuable in a range of applications from medical devices to building construction, but manufacturing them can be difficult and costly. A recent paper published in Nature Communications is looking to change that.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Latest LIGO/Virgo Detection Marks Dawn of a New Era: Gravitational Wave Astronomy

Speaking today at a press conference in western Italy, scientists from the LIGO and Virgo collaborations reported new results detailing the observation of yet another gravitational wave signal, this one emanating from a source at least a billion light years away.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Breaking the "Spin Ice": Strange Magnet May Have Unusual Properties

Scientists have discovered a new way to manipulate the magnetic structure of certain materials to form a kind of magnet known as fragmented spin ice. The resulting material possesses some of the weirdest magnetic properties known to science. Researchers are still trying to figure out exactly how these weird magnets behave, and learning to harness them could one day lead to novel applications. The discovery was published last month in the journal Nature Communications.

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Theoretical Progress Toward Room Temperature Superconductors

Room temperature superconductors would be a game-changer in our energy-hungry world. Even as we integrate alternative energy sources into the electric grid, create more energy efficient devices, and reduce demand where we can, we still battle resistance. Electrical resistance, that is.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Could We Really Stop a Hurricane With Bullets?

Before the arrival of hurricane Irma in Florida, the Pasco county sheriff's department posted a tweet that quickly went viral, urging citizens not to try and scare off the hurricane:

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Could We Really Stop a Hurricane with Bullets?

Before the arrival of hurricane Irma in Florida, the Pasco county sheriff's department posted a tweet that quickly went viral, urging citizens not to try and scare off the hurricane:

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Proton-H2 Experiment Reveals Atomic Scattering Mystery

Results from an experiment exploring how atoms interact on a very fundamental level show that scientists may understand less about what’s going on in some atomic scattering experiments than previously thought. Published recently in the American Physical Society’s journal Physical Review Letters, the international team of researchers hopes that this work will spark follow-up studies that could help us better address one of the most fundamental unsolved problems in physics.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Magnetic Cotton? Researchers Grow Smart Materials with "Bio-fabrication" Technique

What do the most basic t-shirts have in common with cutting-edge fabric that can detect and neutralize nerve gas? The answer is cotton, “the fabric of our lives” as it’s called by the U.S. industry. Cotton is one of the most promising fabrics for applications in wearable "smart materials", such as clothing that responds to changes in temperature, harnesses motion to power electronics, is highly-visible, or monitors body functions.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Twice the Charm: A New Creature Joins the Particle Zoo

If you’re in need of some charming news and a break from weather-related disaster coverage, this is your story. Today, in the American Physical Society’s journal Physical Review Letters, a several-hundred-member team of CERN researchers announced the first unambiguous sighting of a baryon with two heavy quarks.

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Friday, September 08, 2017

Getting to the Core of Molten Planetary Cores

Aside from being hot, what does the liquid, metallic core of a newly formed planet have in common with a bowl of chicken noodle soup?

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Thursday, September 07, 2017

Pulling Gold Out of a Black Hole?

The way in which the universe's heaviest elements were forged has long been a mystery. Now some researchers suspect they might have found an answer—these elements may be born when miniature black holes devour neutron stars from the inside. Such a scenario could also help solve a host of other cosmic puzzles, such as the origin of enigmatic gamma rays and radio bursts.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2017

How to Write on Water

Everyone's used a Sharpie—from the classroom to the office, the ubiquitous permanent marker is a mainstay for producing waterproof labels and signage. But the same physics that gives this ink its permanence also makes it possible to remove it all at once, with nothing more than ordinary water. The trick, according to new research from the laboratory of one of fluid mechanics' most prolific authors, is to take it S-L-O-W.

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Friday, September 01, 2017

Monday, August 28, 2017

Snowstorms on Mars and Diamond Rains on Neptune

Two separate discoveries this week show how spectacular the weather can be on other planets in our solar system. First, a paper from Nature Geoscience explains a mechanism that can create snowstorms on Mars. A separate paper from Nature Astronomy discusses how diamonds can rain down on giant icy planets such as Neptune and Uranus.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Coffee Ring Science: What’s in Your Water?

As the Flint water crisis so vividly highlights, those of us lucky enough to live in places with clean tap water often take it for granted. The problem is that when something goes awry, it’s usually discovered after people have already started getting sick. Even without criminal negligence and cover-ups, like those in the Flint crisis, contaminated water can have devastating consequences.

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Tales of Totality: The Great American Eclipse, part IV

It's almost here...the first total solar eclipse to grace the mainland US in close to 40 years! While this is a big one for the USA—visible as a total solar eclipse in 16% of the country and as a partial eclipse everywhere else—we know that not everyone is going to be able to make it to the path of totality.

Even for those of us who've traveled to see this astronomical phenomenon in its full glory, chancy weather and the threat of clouds mean that nothing is a guarantee. To that end, the Physics Buzz team is deployed across the country to bring you coverage of totality—from our home base's (College Park, MD) Eclipse at the Ellipse event to the relative wilderness of Idaho Falls, selected for its relatively low incidence of cloud cover this time of year.

Because of course we were nerds about this.
Image Credit:

That means that our readers on the east coast will hopefully get a preview of the eclipse, roughly an hour and a half before it comes their way courtesy of Dr. Becky Thompson. PhysicsCentral editor Stephen Skolnick is in northwestern Tennessee, and contributor James Roche is in South Carolina—and all three of us will be bringing you firsthand accounts of our travels and experiences on the way to the path of totality.

SS: It's Sunday afternoon and our party just got settled at a coffeeshop in Nashville after driving past the city last night to Clarksville, TN—a projected drive of ten hours from College Park, MD that ended up taking close to a full sixteen hours, landing us there squarely at 2 AM. Traffic was worse than expected, but nowhere near the disaster levels expected for people making the journey today.

A friend has family that just bought a house in Clarksville, so we're staying in a house that until very recently appears to have belonged to a sweet old woman with a taste for kitsch, and which may or may not now be haunted. Pictures to follow.

Although we're already in the path of totality, the duration of a total eclipse here is only around two minutes—although the whole event including partial eclipse will be much longer from beginning to end. Tomorrow, the current plan is to drive north into Kentucky, to a city called Hopkinsville, where the total eclipse will stretch out to a full two minutes and forty-one seconds. An alternative that's on the table is to get to one of the state or national parks in the area, where we can be around nature to see the famous "pinhole camera effect", as leaves cast strange crescent shadows. I know BT has similar plans that she'd love to talk about! We may get caught on the road, we may miss seeing totality because of clouds, but whatever happens it's sure to be an unforgettable time tomorrow. Check back on this page for updates from me and our other contributors! In the meantime you can check out parts I, II, and III of Physics Buzz's eclipse coverage—for now, we're going browsing in Nashville's various used record stores to try and find a copy of "Total Eclipse of the Heart".

JR: I’ve spent the day at Falls Park, eating, drinking, and navigating swarms of out-of-towners posing for selfies in the middle of the sidewalk while effectively blindfolded by cheap eclipse glasses. Next to us at the Mexican restaurant was a Floridian group in matching “I blacked out… in Greenville, South Carolina” shirts. Spirits are high.  My friend’s one-year old daughter has no patience for the extraordinary, so she will be left in daycare for the event itself.  The rest of our group will be at City Scape Winery from noon til the end of the eclipse around 4 pm. I’ve got my Solar Eclipse Timer app synced to my location, I’ll be setting up my GoPro to capture the scene and snapping a few shots during totality, but for the most part, I’m leaving the photography to the professionals, as I encourage you to do as well. I’ll be busy enjoying the spectacle while keeping an eye out for Lizard Man. I will update this post with any identifiable pictures of either. Have fun out there and be safe!

The Lizard Man thing reminded me—I was doing a little research today on Hopkinsville, where we're hopefully headed tomorrow, and one of the first things that came up was "Hopkinsville Goblins"—so we'll keep an eye out for some of them as well. We're planning on getting on the road around 7 AM, to hopefully avoid getting caught in traffic.

BT: Made it to Rexburg Idaho! There are so many places selling eclipse glasses and t shirts. Many people offering their front yards for "camping" and parking is a steal at $50. We drove around and checked out our original idea of a spot, Beaver Dick County Park. A local astronomer was giving a lecture to all those camping there tonight. We heard that seeing it from one of the two local buttes would be cool so we drove around to check them out. We found a small parking lot and a trail head up to Mennan Butte. The current plan is to get to the parking lot at 5:30am and hike to the top of the Butte. Supposedly from that high you can see the shadow moving across the lower land. Weather looks sunny and beautiful. I'm posting from my phone in the middle of nowhere so please excuse the terrible formatting. Here's hoping this goes well!

BT: On the top of Menan Butte after getting the last parking spot at the trail head. Quite the hike to the top. Now sitting here with about 1000 of my new best friends waiting for the show!

SS: Okay so it turns out the "Hopkinsville Goblins" were supposedly aliens, and this is in fact the cultural origin of the phrase "Little Green Men". So every year, on the anniversary of the day these aliens apparently landed, there's a festival to commemorate the event—the "Little Green Men Days"—that just happen to coincide with the solar eclipse this year. We have found ourselves, and I never thought I'd type this phrase, at an alien fair in rural Kentucky during an eclipse. What?!
SS: We're something like 20 minutes into the partial eclipse here in Kelly, KY—just outside of Hopkinsville. Still an hour 'til totality; pictures of the sun on a digital camera still come out round, rather than the crescent that a glance through eclipse glasses reveals.

SS: It's about 4:30 Eastern, 3:30 our time, and the sun has been back to its old self for a while now. The totality phase is long over, but it was a visually arresting sight while it lasted, to say the least. The sunlight's intensity didn't start to dim noticeably until the moon was about halfway across the disc of the sun, but in the minutes leading up to and following totality, it was an uncanny effect. Ordinarily, when the sun sets, the light of day fades as sunlight streams through more atmosphere, growing redder when higher-energy wavelengths are scattered. Here, though, it faded without reddening, as if the sun was on a dimmer switch. Soon, the clouds on the horizon did take on a reddish cast as the land around us was plunged into darkness.

I was a little shocked when Matt, the friend who drove us all out to the "Little Green Men Days", began to pack up almost immediately after me, it felt like leaving a show at intermission! But Matt had a friend who'd gotten stranded around Nashville by the traffic—a megabus never showed—and who he needed to go pick up. Fearing gridlock, he felt we had to get moving, so we ended up watching the sun return through the window of the car.

Matt's friend lucked out in that he never quite made it to Nashville, though—apparently a cloud moved across the sun ten minutes before totality. By the time it passed, the height of the eclipse was over.

JR: We arrived at the winery at 11:45am, sweltering in 93 degree heat. After picking up our drink tickets and eclipse glasses, the 300-strong crowd settled wherever they could find shade around a central field. A few photographers spent the first half hour setting up expensive-looking equipment, and I made a makeshift tripod for my GoPro out of chopsticks and an alligator clip. Clouds threatened early, but cleared completely with about an hour and a half to totality.

When the sun was about half-covered by the moon, we noticed the Cicadas chirping and the temperature dropping to somewhat manageable levels. I turned my binoculars around to make a projector, which drew a spattering of people interested in my ramblings. As you can see in the video, a sliver of sun was enough to keep the surroundings bright until totality covered us in shadow. Even in totality, the sun's corona washed out the camera's image of the dark side of the moon, but it was clear to the naked eye. When it hit, all I could say was "wow." (about 30 times.) I took one quick pic holding my phone up to the binoculars, and enjoyed the show. It was nothing short of amazing. My advice: DO NOT MISS THE NEXT ONE IN 2024!

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Ask a Physicist: Balancing Gravity

Greyson wrote in this week to ask:

What would happen if you put a metal object in between the earth and a magnet that had the same pull as gravity?

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Get Your Science On: The Great American Eclipse, Part III

The 2017 total solar eclipse is almost upon us, and we’re sure you’ve been hearing a lot about it over the past few weeks (including our eclipse posts Part I and Part II). Whether it’s your first solar eclipse or one of many you’ve witnessed, the event promises to be a show-stopper—weather permitting, of course.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Getting to the Heart of Circuit Breaker Arcs

If you want to see a stunning demonstration of nature colliding with modern technology, do a simple image search for lighting strikes a power line. A chance strike can wreak havoc on the daily lives of those nearby and on the wallets of those responsible for restoring power. Most of us lucky enough to live with stable electric grids take for granted the traffic lights, internet connections, refrigerators, air conditioning, lights, coffee makers, and credit card readers that are essential to our way of life. A major interruption to the grid is a serious and often dangerous issue.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Dark Days Ahead: The Great American Eclipse, Part II

Are you ready? We* are just one week away from a total solar eclipse, an event NASA calls “one of nature’s most awe inspiring sights.” Considering all of the inspiring sights NASA has unveiled over the years, that’s saying a lot! The total solar eclipse will be visible from a narrow band of the United States stretching from coast to coast on August 21. Weather permitting, everyone in the United States (including Hawaii and Alaska) along with people in regions of South America, Africa, and Europe will have the opportunity to see at a least partial solar eclipse. For more on logistics and geography, check out The Great American Eclipse, Part I.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Primordial Particle Soup Smashes Spin-Speed Record

The particles in your body, the device you’re reading this on and everything else around you once swam in a primordial soup that existed just after the universe came into being. This bizarre fluid is the hottest, densest and freest-flowing substance ever known to exist. And the physicists who recreated it believe it can claim a new record: fastest-spinning.

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Monday, August 07, 2017

Fractal Retinal Implants Could Restore People's Sight

From the gecko’s sticky feet to the sophisticated sniffing ability of dogs, nature often provides inspiration for new materials and technologies. Recently, nature has inspired something that could help many people see life a little more clearly; in research recently published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers from the University of Oregon show that fractal-inspired retinal implants could be the first viable approach to helping people with retinal diseases regain sight to the point where they can navigate without assistance.

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Friday, August 04, 2017

Perspective: Why Don't Sunbeams Look Parallel?

Not too long ago, I had an internet run-in with a "flat Earth" type who hit me with an argument I'd never heard before: the sun, they insisted, is actually only a few hundred miles from Earth, as can be proven with some simple mathematical analysis of sunbeams. By measuring the apparent angle between sunbeams striking the opposite sides of a valley that they knew the width of, they could trace back and use geometry to calculate how far away the source must be! I want to share this little anecdote because it's a great reminder of how important a diverse and well-rounded education is: someone with training in visual arts would never have missed the error that this person made.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Measuring the Very Real Pressure of Virtual Photons

Under some conditions, quantum fluctuations of light can put real, physical pressure on an object. In new research that came out just yesterday in the journal Physical Review Letters, a team of scientists from the RIKEN research institute in Japan show that it’s theoretically possible to “see” and study the virtual photons that make up these quantum fluctuations.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

When the Moon and Sun Align: The Great American Eclipse, Part I

Summer may be winding down for those readers in the United States, but don’t despair—there is at least one fantastic reason to be excited about August. THE SOLAR ECLIPSE IS COMING!

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

New Study Finds the Proton to be Surprisingly Light

Imagine hefting a liter of water in your hands. That's a kilogram of weight. Divide that by a billion, and you've got a quantity called a microgram—a thousandth of a single milligram. Divide that amount by a billion, and you've got a femtogram—which it's almost impossible to get an intuitive sense for. But divide by a billion yet again, you've got roughly the mass of a single proton—and that's what scientists have measured with unprecedented precision in a surprising new experiment at the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Talking in a Bubble: Using Physics to Explain Dialects

When you know the laws of the universe, many things become predictable—the next full moon, the trajectory of a bullet, and even the fate of the Earth. Physics can be an excellent tool for predicting how objects behave under certain conditions. It turns out that physics may also be a valuable tool for predicting where dialects emerge, according to research published this week in the American Physical Society journal Physical Review X.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Study About Nothing

A vacuum is a space absolutely devoid of matter, at least according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. But if you talk to a physicist you may get a different answer. According to quantum physics, even vacuums are not completely empty. Constant fluctuations in energy can spontaneously create mass not just out of thin air, but out of absolutely nothing at all.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Borophene Nanoribbons: A Barbecue-Inspired Breakthrough

Graphene is one of the lightest, strongest, and highest-conductivity materials in existence. Since it was introduced to the world in 2004, many scientists have focused on understanding and harnessing the incredible potential of this two-dimensional form of carbon—but the discovery of graphene also kicked off a search for similar forms of other elements, in hopes that they might have unique and valuable properties as well.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

A Star is Surprising Circumstances

Stellar nurseries, the birthplace of new stars, are not as cozy and color-coordinated as Pinterest nurseries. Stellar nurseries feature dust and gas rather than lovable characters and perfect shades of blue or pink—cold expanses rather than cozy nooks.

As scientists have pieced together the story of how stars form, a model has emerged that highlights the role of a strong magnetic field. However, research recently published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters reveals that stellar nurseries may have environments that are much more varied and complex than previously thought. This information could help us better understand how stars like our sun form.

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Spinning Black Holes Could Create Clouds of Mass

Nothing, not even light, can come out of a black hole. At least, that’s the conventional wisdom, and it’s certainly true that—once the event horizon is crossed—there’s no going back. But for rotating black holes, there’s a region outside the event horizon where strange and extraordinary things can happen, and these extraordinary possibilities are the focus of a new paper in the American Physical Society journal Physical Review Letters.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

New Simulation Method Predicts Crystal Structures Like Never Before

Materials science is one field where structure makes all the difference in the world. Take carbon, for example—it has two crystalline forms, one of which is soft enough that it can be crumbled with your fingers, while the other is the hardest substance found in nature. The component atoms are identical, but the arrangement of those atoms determines whether they make common graphite or a sparkling diamond.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Emptiness Tied in a Knot

O Time, thou must untangle this, not I;
It is too hard a knot for me t' untie. 
-Viola in Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
The knot Viola speaks of in Twelfth Night is a complex love triangle. Knots are often used to symbolize complicated situations, in addition to anxiety and lasting commitments. Like Viola, when most of us think about knots our focus is on how tightly they are tied. For the scientists who study them however, knots are much more—they represent a unique approach to understanding the universe.

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Ask a Physicist: San Fran in Space

William, from Honolulu, wrote in this week to ask:

If there was a space station/city the size of San Francisco in geostationary orbit, what would it look like from ground level with the naked eye? Would it cast a noticeable shadow?

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Scientists Use Warped Light to Test Einstein’s Theory and Weigh Stars

When Einstein developed his general theory of relativity, commercial radio didn’t even exist yet. He could not possibly have imagined all of the fancy, high-tech equipment that scientists would use over the next 100 years to test—and verify—his predictions. In fact, he wasn’t even sure that all of his predictions could be tested experimentally because they resulted in such tiny, hard-to-measure effects.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Blistering Planet Hotter Than Many Stars

Given its stats, the recently discovered planet KELT-9b probably deserves its own baseball card. The planet and its host star, KELT-9, compose a unique system among the exoplanets discovered so far. KELT-9 is a relatively young, very hot star and its scorching heat warms the near side of the planet to a blistering 7,800 degrees Fahrenheit. KELT-9b isn't just the hottest gas giant so far discovered, it’s hotter than many stars.

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Thursday, June 01, 2017

LIGO for a 3-peat!

For the third time, a telltale signal of two colliding black holes has been caught by the dual detectors of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). Not only does the new detection reinforce LIGO’s capabilities and previous detections, it also provides clues about how these black hole systems form and just how common they are. In addition, each new detection is a chance to test the predictions of general relativity—predictions that can’t be tested in a lab.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Where Sound Meets Flexible Electronics

Voice-securing your ATM card. Talking to your newspaper over coffee. Projecting your voice to a room full of people using only a thin, lightweight loudspeaker that fits in your pocket. With new research published last week in the journal Nature Communications, a team of scientists from Michigan State University and Georgia Institute of Technology has opened the door to these possibilities.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Promising Results in Offworld Fertility Experiments

To the best of anyone’s knowledge, no one has had sex in space.

Only one married couple have been on the same mission, the Americans Mark Lee and Jan Davis, and according to NASA, nothing happened. There being no privacy in the space shuttle or the International Space Station, that is likely true.

But with NASA exploring ideas such as two-year voyages to Mars and eventual colonies on Mars and the moon, the question of reproductive safety is important, especially if humans wish to one day travel to the edges of the solar system and even beyond. Can space voyagers conceive healthy human babies?

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Focusing Sound with Metasurfaces: A New Way to Reduce Noise and Power Devices?

Whether it’s the neighbor’s barking dogs, pounding rain, the din of traffic, or the music of your own choosing, most of us are constantly surrounded by noise. Noise is energy, so that means most of us are constantly surrounded by a relatively safe, renewable, and clean form of energy. What if we could harvest this energy?

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Could This Simple Tabletop Experiment Help Solve the Double-Slit Mystery?

Quantum mechanics, it seems, is where physics breaks from making intuitive sense. In the realm of the infinitesimal, particles can be in two places at once, or display the "spooky" properties of entanglement. But it might not have to be that way—a few months ago, the good folks over at Veritasium put out a fantastic video drawing attention to an amazing phenomenon that was only recently discovered: a macroscopic, intuitively friendly system that behaves almost exactly like a quantum-mechanical one. Now, scientists are building on this work, discovering new properties of this system and linking them to their quantum-mechanical counterparts.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Gravity Caught Stretching Quantum Objects

Black holes and quantum mechanics are two of the most intriguing physics topics. Their strange and exotic features certainty capture the imagination. Now, new research in the American Physical Society’s journal Physical Review Letters brings aspects of the two together in an experiment that shows, for the first time, that gravity stretches and squeezes quantum objects through tidal forces.

A macroscopic quantum state explores curved spacetime.
Image Credit: Peter Asenbaum.

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Friday, May 05, 2017

Self-Folding Structures Inspired by Origami

From the elegant crane to playful flowers, the intricate shapes created with origami are delightful and often astounding. They are also a source of inspiration for scientists. In areas ranging from microelectronics to biomedicine, there is a need for small, complicated three-dimensional objects. Last week in the journal Science Advances, a team of scientists from Georgia Institute of Technology and Peking University shared their work on an origami-inspired technique for creating such structures.

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Monday, May 01, 2017

Using Radio to Detect the Gravitational Waves of Merging Black Holes

The detection of gravitational waves topped nearly every chart highlighting the most important science stories of 2016. LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, made headlines by detecting direct evidence of ripples in spacetime caused by two merging black holes. Historic and exciting, this discovery will probably be the first of many gravitational wave signals we see over the coming years—and not all of them will come from gravitational wave observatories.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Building a Settlement on Mars, Brick-by-Brick

With NASA’s plan to send humans to Mars in the 2030s and SpaceX’s plan to send them as early as 2020, things are getting exciting. In just three years, the Mars 2020 astrobiology rover will blast off toward the red planet. While there, the rover will search for signs of life and gather information that will help protect the lives and missions of astronauts during future visits. The European Space Agency, in partnership with Roscosmos State Corporation, will launch the ExoMars rover in 2020 to undertake a similar mission. If SpaceX achieves its goal, humans could be visiting Mars at the same time as these rovers.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Photographers Discover New Pseudo-Aurora, Get to Name the Phenomenon...End Up Calling it "Steve".

A group of "Aurora Chasers" in Canada appear to have stumbled on an extraordinary new astrophysical phenomenon, and—in typical internet fashion—endowed it with an amusingly ordinary name. Don't let the unassuming moniker fool you, though: Steve is a mind-bogglingly powerful event, albeit one that is apparently more common than scientists expected.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Seeing Quadruple, Seeing the Universe More Clearly

An exploding star has astronomers seeing quadruple—and they couldn’t be happier. Today in the AAAS journal Science, an international team of researchers led by Ariel Goobar at Stockholm University presents unique images of a special type of stellar explosion, called a Type 1a supernova, that will offer important new insights into gravity, dark matter, and the acceleration of the universe.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Could "Pedal Power" Help Light our Cities?

This week, we had a reader write in:

Why has no one developed a battery that can be attached to a recumbent bike to gather energy when someone is pedaling? Thousands of hours of manual work is being wasted (not counting the health benefits) 

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

TNT-Detecting Bacteria Could Illuminate Landmines

A hidden and indiscriminate threat, landmines injure and kill soldiers, civilians, and even inhabitants of now-peaceful regions every day. It’s impossible to know how many landmines are buried worldwide, but most estimates place the number somewhere between 100 million and 200 million devices. Once planted, landmines remain a threat until they are detected and detonated, a process that can take decades or longer if it is not a high priority in the region. Even when it is a priority, detecting these mines is slow and risky work.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Swirling a Fluid from Within

From churning rapids to Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night, there is something about swirling motions that draws people in. The same can’t be said for the large, imposing structures that make up industrial chemical reactors found in water treatment centers and manufacturing plants. However, in some ways the two are closely connected.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

PhysicsCentral Will be Marching for Science...Will You?

Recently, PhysicsCentral’s parent organization endorsed the upcoming global March for Science—which means that we can now officially say the same! The American Physical Society is an official partner of the march, so you’ll be able to join a coalition of physicists and physics fans alike gathered on the national mall in Washington, D.C. this April 22nd! If you're not in the DC area, you can likely find a satellite march happening in your city, or create your own through the same page!

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

New Signs of an Environment Favorable for Life on Saturn’s Enceladus

In the search for extraterrestrial life, one of the most promising candidates so far is the tiny moon Enceladus. Research appearing today in the AAAS journal Science includes exciting new evidence of this promise—the detection of molecular hydrogen.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Astrophysicists Envision a Universe Without Dark Energy

Dark energy, the hypothesized but unconfirmed entity thought to propel the expansion of the universe, has puzzled astrophysicists since the 1990s. Its subtle effects are even harder to detect directly than those of dark matter. Now some scientists are developing alternative ways to understand the universe's expansion and proposing to dispose of the concept of dark energy altogether.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

A Green Light for Predicting Failure

Failure may be an opportunity for growth, but I don’t want to be anywhere near the collapsing bridge or malfunctioning airplane that everyone else learns from. When it comes to structural failure, the best place to learn about it is in the lab and the best time to detect it is well before it happens.

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Monday, April 03, 2017

Bats Wiggle Their Way to Better Echolocation

While pursuing prey in complete darkness, horseshoe bats can zip through dense vegetation guided solely by sound. Their only protection from the raging headache—or worse—of a headlong collision is the sound waves entering their two pointy ears. New experimental research out of Virginia Tech shows that the horseshoe bat’s knack for rapidly navigating its environment is partly due to how it “wiggles” its nose and ears.

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Saturday, April 01, 2017

American Physical Society Launches "Physical Review Tweets"

Following the success of Physical Review Materials and Physical Review X, the American Physical Society is excited to announce the launch of Physical Review Tweets, the latest addition to the Physical Review family of journals and/or feeds.

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Friday, March 31, 2017

Small-Scale Turbulence May Help Power Solar Explosions

The same sun that shines on bright, cheery days is also responsible for the biggest explosions in the solar system. These explosions, called solar flares, can detonate with the energy of more than one billion megaton bombs and spew dangerous radiation and high-energy particles into space.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Time, Randomness, and Correlations in a Quantum Model

How do you know if something is random? If you were a substitute teacher that only taught on Wednesdays, you might interpret a dip in attendance as a random fluctuation. If you taught that same class every single day, however, the dip might signal the tail end of a local flu epidemic that caused even more students to miss class on Monday and Tuesday. Most “random” events are not as random as they appear.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Synthetic Brains Made of Superconductors and Light

You have 100 billion neurons in your brain, each one connected to a multitude of others. Every time you think, feel, or move, neurons in this massive network react, rapidly sending, processing, and receiving signals. Through this behind-the-scenes activity we learn about and navigate the world. Well, through our brains and Google.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Implants by Design: Mimicking Tissue with a New Class of Materials

A new kind of material discussed at last week’s American Physical Society March Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana could someday make its way into your body. From artificial hips to pacemakers, medical implants give countless people relief, health, confidence, and more time to do the things they love with the people they love. Developing implants that are durable, reliable and well-matched to the body is an active and important area of biomedical research.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Recipe for the Perfect Pi Day

What goes better with mornings than coffee? And what goes better with coffee than pie? Today, of all days, is the perfect day to enjoy a slice of pie with your morning coffee—it’s Pi Day!

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Thursday, March 09, 2017

How Nature Controls Traffic on the Surface of Cells

Like a busy interchange, the surface of every living cell hums with activity. Proteins and lipids are constantly in motion, detecting, processing, and responding to signals from the outside world. They interact and move along a surface called the plasma membrane, a complex fluid barrier that separates the inside of a cell from everything else.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Old Equations Find New Life: The Physics of Ice Bridges

As nights lengthen with the coming of arctic winter, one can sometimes walk across water—on natural, frozen bridges. Wind and waves can drive sea ice together to form giant superstructures of ice stretching miles longer than any bridges that people have built over water. Now scientists have developed models describing how these ice bridges form and break up, findings that could shed light on a variety of seemingly unrelated phenomena, including jamming in grain silos that can lead to explosions.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Musical, Mathematical Genius in You

Hum a note to yourself, even just in your head. Any note will do.

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Friday, March 03, 2017

The Quantum Storm Inside of a Superfluid

The mini tornadoes that form in superfluids won’t send any cows flying through the air, but the scientists from Newcastle University behind a new study were surprised to see that these mini twisters can create quite a tangled storm. Their results suggest that superfluids have a deeper connection to everyday fluids than previously thought, and will soon be published in the American Physical Society’s journal Physical Review Letters.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Wiring a Rose to Store Energy

Roses are a common sign of love, or of an attentive gardener, not a common sign of cutting-edge scientific research. However, new work published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows roses in a whole new light—as beautiful energy storage devices. This work brings us one step closer to being able to harvest energy from plants.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Strides & Hurdles

It was a hundred years after the founding of this country, and only eleven years after the end of the civil war, that a man of African descent first earned a PhD from an American university. His name was Edward Bouchet, and he made history when he graduated from Yale with his PhD in physics in 1876. Despite being effectively locked out of academia and research at any institution that wasn’t specifically for people of color, Bouchet became a trailblazer and a role model, serving as an educator for most of his later life, a living example of what America was struggling to become in the post-reconstruction era: a place where merit and dedication are rewarded regardless of who you are.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Proteins at the Edge

What do a flock of starlings, solar flares, traffic jams, the event horizon of a black hole, and the human brain have in common?

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Big Consequences of Friction at the Nanoscale

How steep does an incline need to be before a box will slide on it? It's a classic question in physics classrooms, and the answer depends on two factors—the box's weight and a factor called μ (mu): the coefficient of friction. The value of μ depends on things like the box's material, the texture of the incline's surface, and whether the box is already moving or sitting still, but in some situations there's another surprising factor that can affect how easy it is for an object to start sliding along a surface—how long the object has been sitting still.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Get to Know Your Neighbors (and Maybe Find Planet Nine in Your Spare Time!)

Instead of binge-watching one more episode of Game of Thrones or The Big Bang Theory, consider taking a few minutes to look at your cosmic neighborhood. You could be the one to discover a neighbor that has never been seen before—such as the alluring, hypothetical Planet Nine.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Nature’s Optics Teacher: The Cockeyed Squid

The Histioteuthis heteropsis, also known as the cockeyed squid, spends its days drifting through the ocean, eyes on alert for signs of predators or prey. Squid are intriguing creatures in general, but it’s the eyes of Histioteuthis heteropsis that draw you in. Or, rather, the contrast between the eyes—a large, bulging, yellowish one on one side and the significantly smaller, more traditional looking eye on the other side.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Leaving Convention Behind: Bending Multicolored Light with a Flat Lens

A good pair of lenses can transform your life, assuming you are one of the 4.2 billion people in the world with less-than-perfect eyesight. A good lens can also transform our understanding of life and this world we inhabit. From the discovery of microorganisms to the moons of Jupiter, lenses shine a light on things too small or too faint to see with the naked eye. They also help us capture and preserve the milestones and everyday moments that make up a life. That’s a lot to ask of ground glass.

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Keeping Nanoparticles—and Treatments—on Target

We all know that the human body has weaknesses. Whether the cause is genetic, environmental, personal choices, pure dumb luck, or some combination of factors, it’s not uncommon for diseases to take hold and destroy a body cell-by-cell. In the fight against these diseases, one of the most promising approaches involves using tiny nanoparticles to carry toxic drugs to precisely the right place: the infected cells.

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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Physicists Devise "Black Hole" on a Chip

Black holes are one of the best-known and most intriguing concepts in astrophysics. They're places where a literally unstoppable force—usually the domain of philosophers—manifests. They've given rise to countless thought experiments and what-ifs, provided a theoretical tool to probe the nature of our universe, and inspired generations of scientists and science enthusiasts alike to stretch their imaginations to the extreme...and beyond.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

ZAP! Why is Winter Static Season?

We're fast approaching what are usually the coldest, driest months of the year (at least here in the northern hemisphere), and with that comes the annoying tendency of doorknobs to shock and startle us whenever they're touched. It happens to some extent almost everywhere, but it wasn't until I spent a week at a conference in Montana—and found myself flinching every time I had to press the elevator button—that I really gave some thought to this usually-minor annoyance.

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Friday, February 03, 2017

Exploring Cosmic Rays Through the Shadows

At this week’s American Physical Society Meeting in Washington, DC, researchers from an observatory in Mexico unveiled unique images featuring a kind of shadow of the moon and sun. The images don’t contain a lot of new information about the sun and moon, but are a way of studying charged particles known as cosmic rays that move at really high speeds—their properties, interactions with magnetic fields, and even a bit about where they come from.

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Thursday, February 02, 2017

Is the Universe a Hologram?

The question might seem like nothing more than mental gymnastics, a thought-provoking but “out there” question meant to give college students something to discuss at 3am. However, work published last week in Physical Review Letters provides observational evidence that this could actually be the case.

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Friday, January 27, 2017

Metallic Hydrogen at Last?

“We have produced atomic metallic hydrogen in the laboratory at high pressure and low temperature,” say Harvard scientists Isaac Silvera and Ranga Dias in a new article that appears today in the AAAS journal Science. This straightforward comment could mean the end of an 80-year quest...and the start of an energy revolution.

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Unlocking the Mysteries of Sandy "Megaripples"

Sandy beaches are often patterned with sunburned visitors, brightly colored towels, and poorly constructed sand castles. However, the wind can create much more intriguing patterns in sand, from tiny ripples to towering dunes.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

More Bang for Your Bit: Scientists Break Quantum Computing Record

Scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have broken the efficiency record for data transfer. Using a quantum communication process known as superdense coding, they squeezed through an average 1.67 bits of data per qubit. Qubits, which is short for "quantum bits," are units of data that utilize quantum properties to store information.

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Friday, January 20, 2017

On the Front Line of Movie Making

With a new camera system, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis can capture 100 billion frames per second in a single shot. This record-breaking design won’t improve the quality of your YouTube uploads (even very high speed video cameras only record a few thousand frames per second)—but it could improve your health.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Scientists Make One Extremely Cold Drum

I’m on my second Minnesota winter and it’s cold. On really cold days, your eyelashes can freeze and baby wipes become a useless block of ice if you leave them in the car. It’s pretty extreme, in my mind. All of this is put in perspective though, by new research published in Nature last week. A team of scientists at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) cooled a tiny aluminum drum down to a temperature so cold that most scientists thought it was unreachable.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Putting “Life” in Order with Acoustical Tweezers Designed for Widespread Use

Whether you’re pulling out a splinter of wood or an eyebrow hair, tweezers are the go-to tool. For these and many other situations that involve moving an object too small to grasp with human hands, a $1.49 pair of metal tweezers is good enough. However, moving an object too small to see requires a much more complicated and expensive kind of tweezers.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Step Aside, WIMPs!

It seems the search for particles of dark matter has come up short once again, leading some scientists to question whether we should be looking for particles at all. Two of the world's most massive detector projects—China's PandaX-II collaboration and the US's LUX group—have ended up empty-handed in their search for weakly interacting massive particles (or WIMPs), long considered one of the most plausible explanations for our galaxy's surprising rotational behavior.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mysterious Radio Signals: The Sequel

Less than two months, ago we brought you the mysterious tale of fast radio bursts (FRBs), bright flashes of radio waves that last for just fractions of a second and most likely come from outside of our galaxy, but which we know little else about. Last week, the sequel to that story was released. In a press conference at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society, coordinated with a cover story in the journal Nature, astronomers announced that they had identified the origin of an FRB for the first time: a small, faint, dwarf galaxy more than 2.5 billion light years away. Companion papers have also been published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters (here, here, and here).

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Monday, January 09, 2017

How Tiny Swimmers Put the “Super” in Superfluid

For Superman and Supergirl, it’s alien DNA. For Spiderman, it’s the bite. For Iron Man, it’s the suit. But for some “superfluids,” it’s the tiny, self-propelled swimmers that are the source of their power.

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Friday, January 06, 2017

Part-time Pulsars: Another Milky Way Mystery

If you’re a Physics Buzz regular, you’ve read about radio pulsars before (most recently here). A pulsar forms when a massive star explodes and its outer layers are blown away. The inside core contracts, resulting in an extremely dense, rapidly rotating neutron star. Pulsars have the strongest known magnetic fields in the universe, and beams of charged particles spew out from their magnetic poles. Like a lighthouse signal sweeping across the water, we detect pulsars by very regular radio pulses sweeping across the Earth. Currently, astronomers have detected about 2500 radio pulsars in our galaxy.

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